Is the dark web safe?

The dark web is the shady part of internet town, and for those unfamiliar with its .onion alleys, it can be hard to know where legal activity ends and illegal activity begins.

Is the dark web safe?

Before you consider accessing the dark web, it’s a good idea to get up to speed with a few distinctions: namely, the difference between the deep web and the dark web. We have a full guide here, but the deep web generally relates to portions of the internet that aren’t crawled by search engines (that includes your online banking and work intranet), while the dark web is a subsection of this that is purposefully hidden by layers of encryption.

So is the dark web safe? Short answer: some of it is, a lot of it isn’t.

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The dark web, as a concept in itself, is not illegal. Tor, the software used to access the dark web, is not illegal to use. What can be found on the dark web using Tor, however, can be highly illegal. This means you won’t be breaking the law by accessing the dark web, but you should be aware that much of what exists on the dark web could get you in a lot of trouble.

“Safe” is a bit of a vague term. There is much of worth to be found on the dark web, but by its nature it is not as safe as the surface-level internet. You can only access pages by having a direct link (normally with a .onion suffix) and while that makes it harder to accidentally stumble across illegal content, you’re only a click away from some pretty horrible stuff.

What’s more, the government is cracking down on illegal material on the dark web. In November 2015, it was announced that GCHQ and the National Crime Agency (NCA) would be joining forces to tackle serious crimes and child pornography on the dark web. Director of GCHQ Robert Hannigan said that the new Joint Operations Cell (JOC) will be “committed to ensuring no part of the internet, including the dark web, can be used with impunity by criminals to conduct their illegal acts”.

If you want to access the dark web, our best advice would be to tread carefully. Plan what it is you want to get out of your trip under the surface, and avoid anything that looks dodgy. You can use a plugin such as Ghostery to spoof your IP address for extra protection, but in general it’s best to keep away from anything you’re unsure about. 

For more background and advice, check out our brief guide to the dark web, deep web and Tor.

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